Spanish Fever: Stories by the New Spanish Cartoonists
Edited by Santiago Garcia
Review by Meridel Newton
Fantagraphics Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: 9781606999448
Date: 03 August 2016
Spanish Fever is a collection of comics from current Spanish artists, edited by Santiago Garcia and with an introduction by Eddie Campbell. The book is, in effect, a highlights reel for the Spanish comics scene, as it features brief stories or selections from more than 30 prominent artists. Several have science fiction, fantasy, or alternate history premises.
Economic anxiety is an overarching theme running through many of the stories. Some of them read almost as a history text, very deliberately laying out the consequences of the recent economic crisis in Spain, while others project the current situation into the future. Others mention the economy as the cause of, or background to, more personal turmoil.
The introduction traces the trajectory of the Spanish comics industry, and explains that it has only recently matured into popularity and success. It is easy to make the leap that the economic uncertainty in Spain led directly to the flowering of an art form long dormant as people sought new ways to express themselves.
Many of the stories in the collection turn inward. Some of these are comics about comics, focusing on what comics mean to the artist, or how art has influenced their life. Multiple stories are autobiographical, with the main character explicitly named after the artist, and the stories focus on their struggles with life, employment, and love. Even in many of the entries without explicit mention of economic turmoil, the chaos and uneasiness of an uncertain future comes through clearly.
"Curiosities, Science, and Fiction" by Juaco Vizuete is a stand-out piece in the book, with fully-realized art and a fascinating story. This short story, set in the tense atmosphere of the Cold War and the space race, questions the line between truth and fiction. Highly-detailed art draws out a tale that may be either propaganda or the personal experience of a single cosmonaut who claimed to have met an alien during his mission. It manages to be both intriguing and wistful, pointed and hopeful.
"Chronicle of a Crisis Foretold" by Paco Roca and "The New York Experiment" by Marcos Prior were not paired in the book, but they should have been. Roca's story is an indictment of the economic crisis and the governments that failed to regulate the banks, leading to the ultimate collapse in 2008. It's fascinating to see it from a Spanish perspective and to see how Roca traces the instability as far back as the adoption of the Euro. Prior's story feels like a combination of a grad school seminar and a near-future dystopia. "Experiment" imagines a future where the crisis only deepened, and no corrective measures were put in place to stop the all-out capitalistic plunder of both the economy and human dignity. Both stories read as warnings--one a history and one an extrapolation.
"Finland" by Javier Olivares was adapted from a short story by Hernán Casciari. This is one case where the art and the writing elevate each other until the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. It perfectly captures a single breathless moment of self-realization, still haunting the main character even years later. The story perfectly illustrates how small moments, moments unnoticed by those around us, can have an impact upon us for life. Bold artwork pairs perfectly with the emotional, insightful writing, immersing the reader in the stranger's story.
Other favorites include "A Christmas at Home" by Miguel Gallardo (family drama), "Horse Meat" by Ana Galvañ (pop culture surrealism), "The Visit" by Mireia Pérez (time travel), and "Dreams" by Juan Berrio (romantic introspection).
Unfortunately, there are also a few clunkers. Many of the stories are permeated with unexamined self-pity or lack much in the way of a plot or conclusion. Others are misogynistic to the point of offensiveness, with no trace of self-awareness. "Writers Never Score" by Ramón Boldú, for example, is almost painful to read in its blatant self-interest and disregard for women.
Despite these pitfalls, Spanish Fever is a satisfying cross-section of an art and industry that is clearly thriving. With more than 30 artists and their stories to choose from, there is sure to be something in here for every type of reader.